AP Cuts Ties With Pulitzer Winner Over Image Edits

By retouching the corner of a photo, Narciso Contreras has been cut from the AP

syria photoshop
syria photoshop

In 2012, Narciso Contreras was one of a cadre of five photojournalists who won the Pulitzer Prize for their work in Syria for the AP. Now, after being caught removing an object from one photo, Contreras has been cut from the agency, and his entire back catalog of images removed from distribution.

Contreras originally snapped a picture of an opposition fighter in September of last year. He then digitally removed a video camera that was in the bottom left corner of the frame, clone stamping in a rock formation instead. The video camera wasn't particularly invasive in the scene, but Contreras opted to remove it—and in doing so, fell afoul of the AP's strict editing guidelines, which state "No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph.”

The AP has put out an article and a blogpost on the incident, and after having examined some 500 of Contreras' other images, has determined that this was the only example of such editing. AP Vice President and Director of Photography Santiago Lyon is quoted as saying:

“AP’s reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions in violation of our ethics code. Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable and we have severed all relations with the freelance photographer in question. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity.”

It seems curious that Contreras would edit just this one image, and remove an object that seems fairly non-intrusive, so you have to wonder on his motivation. You'd assume that he knew the AP hard line stance on the matter, and one wonders if the video camera might not have lead to accusations of the shot being staged. Contreras expressed his regrets on the matter, saying

"I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera ... I feel ashamed about that. You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation, but yeah, it happened to me, so I have to assume the consequences."

The AP obviously has to be extremely strict in these situations, in order to preserve its reputation as an un-biased news source. But as is always the case with ethical issues around photo-editing, it raises more questions about where the line must be drawn for photoshoppery.